We're up to our third part on preventing piglet mortality in the time from farrowing to weaning. Up until now, our focus has been on the sow and how her care is reflected in reducing the 25% piglet mortality rate, with 7.1% at birth and 18.2% after they are born. Now we'll take a look at the piglets and the management they need to avoid diseases and deaths early on in life:
It's interesting to note that it's actually the piglet that starts the labor process. Once it has matured enough to survive the outside world, its pituitary and adrenal glands become active and release corticosteroids that transport through the umbilical cord to the placenta, which releases prostaglandins to the corpora lutea on the ovaries which maintain the pregnancy. This hormone causes them to regress, starting the farrowing process.
Providing that your piglets are born without complications, which we'll cover in another article, they will probably be born nose-first. It is absolutely vital that the piglet have its nose cleaned off quickly, so that it does not breathe in amniotic fluid. After that area is cleaned, briskly clean off and dry somewhat the rest of the piglet's body using a clean towel or rag.
The umbilical cord will snap after a while, at which point you may want to trim it shorter and dip it in 10% betadine to help ensure it heals well and does not allow for transmission of bacteria or other ills into the body. Clipping the needle teeth while being cautious to not cut the gums or crush the teeth and docking the tail to 1/4" is best done during this time as well, before the pig is a full 24 hours old.
If you have multiple sows farrowing on the same day, you can foster the larger piglets from large litters to sows with small litters for the first three days of life. Don't try to foster the runts, they will do much better with their own mother. Make sure they receive colostrum from their mother before fostering.
Piglets are born with very little immune system, which makes it vital that they get the immune-boosting colostrum, or first milk, from the sow. This milk often has a more translucent and golden tone than the milk that will come in later. To keep track of which piglets have nursed and which ones haven't, use a livestock marker to mark the heads of those who have.
Image courtesy of Dan Thornton https://www.flickr.com/photos/badgergravling/9486506250.